Wot I Think – BioShock Infinite: Burial At Sea Ep 2

By Alec Meer on March 25th, 2014 at 12:00 pm.

BioShock Infinite’s DLC, BioShock Infinite and BioShock 1 concludes with this second, longer, stealthier half of last November’s return to Rapture. It’s out now.

You’ll hear no politics from me, though by God it’s tempting to correlate Burial At Sea Part 2′s status as a swansong for two BioShock universes with the recent, shock closure of Irrational. Whatever else there is to both tales, at least this concluding DLC for BioShock Infinite reverses the sense of decline we’ve seen since the original BioShock. Despite a multitude of sins it does leapfrog both Infinite and its own, irritatingly slight if visually flabbergasting Part 1. It also includes the single most unpleasant – and frankly needless with it – moment I’ve ever experienced in a videogame.

So here we are, back in Rapture, now controlling Infinite’s AI companion/plot device Elizabeth in a relatively lengthy DLC campaign with dual goals: 1) introduce true stealth to BioShock and 2) close off any lingering plot holes (and indeed plot contrivances) from both BioShock and BioShock Infinite.

I’m going to start with the latter, primarily to get the moaning out of my system. Burial At Sea is an overt claim of ownership over both BioShock fictions – Rapture’s city beneath the sea and Columbia’s city above the clouds. Clearly I won’t go into detail as once the spoiler avalanche starts I don’t know that I could stop it, but this goes further than before in terms of inextricably linking the two worlds. It finds a clutch of unanswered questions or glossed-over character fates, and uses those as an excuse to insert situations wherein people from each universe have been communicating or otherwise affecting the situation on the other side.

While there’s a sense that someone’s been over the original BioShock with the finest of tooth-combs, both to identify possible gaps and to satisfy lingering fan questions, too often it feels contrived, convenient, unconvincing. The expected cameos are there and there is some excitement to them, but it goes much further than nods – I felt that Rapture winds up tainted and diminished by its new status as dependent on Columbia’s cast. Even if you do go with the new scenario presented, new, even more inconvenient questions are left in its wake: for instance, why didn’t any of Rapture’s powers that be flee to Columbia once the writing was so evidently on the wall for Ryan’s undersea objectivist stronghold?

Some of the shared history manages an affecting pay-off – the previously-implied commonality between Infinite’s Songbird and Rapture’s Big Daddies, for instance – but for the most part there’s frankly a fan fiction air to proceedings. Nothing’s wrong with fan fiction per se, but this finale resolutely fails to convince that there was some grand masterplan all along – the tying up of all, still lingering questions or no, is a retcon through and through.

While it can be powerfully maudlin when the approach is echoes through time, constants and variables rather than outright rewriting, some new reveals are outright ugly in their attempt to retroactively justify earlier narrative decisions. For instance – and a minor spoiler which doesn’t relate to the overall outcome here – we discover that the much-criticised ultimate depiction of Vox Populi leader Daisy Fitzroy as a murderous monster no better than the racist, cruel powers she sought to overthrow was in fact a feint, necessary in order to force a certain event, but really she hated what she was doing and knew it would lead to her own demise.

Honestly, what rot. What a preposterous and blatant attempt to shoot down one of the more persistent criticisms of Infinite after the event. It also speaks to Infinite and Burial At Sea’s use of the dimension-hopping Lutece twins as narrative get out of jail free cards: much as their dialogue continues to entertain, I sincerely hope this is the last we ever see of them.

I digress, really. Like I say, my suspicion is that this is an attempt at total ownership, both to snip off most remaining plot threads from two games and to ensure that, whatever else is done with BioShock in a post-Irrational (as was) future, what we’ve seen so far is protected within a cosmic/quantum bubble of overarching lore.

Onto how the game plays, though I’ll quickly note that a large section towards the end is essentially one long walking tour with everything other than movement switched off (similar to the closing section of the original Infinite), and as such it’s impossible to divorce mechanics from plot.

While some of the familiar BioShock arsenal returns and as such the usual bullet-aided removal of life is a viable option, Burial At Sea really wants to be a stealth game. New sneaking powers, non-lethal takedowns and enemy alert indicators do feel a little shoe-horned in and certainly aren’t as convincing as they would be in a true stealth game, but they are a natural fit – both for play style and atmosphere.

In the Rapture sections especially, hiding and creeping suits the more horror-skewed tone, the encroaching darkness and the sense that Splicers are twisted things you want to avoid rather than ever see the whites of what were once their eyes. Jealously hoarding sleep darts or trying to play the thing without even being seen becomes a sub-game in itself, and there’s a more organic impetus to explore the typically lavish environments slowly and carefully rather than rush to the next skirmish.

While enemies’ ability to detect me seemed all over the place and this created intermittent frustration, I really did feel that I was playing a BioShock game in the way I’d always wanted to play it: on edge, carefully, thoughtfully, planning in advance how to deal with a room full of foes rather than just having to open fire and then roll with the consequences.

There’s also a clear element of loving tribute to stealth games of the past here. Thief references are heavy, from a Plasmid which evokes Garrett’s eye to the (sadly underused) muffling of footsteps when on carpet, to Splicer barks which are just an inch away from ‘someone taffing about?’ There’s also an enemy-heavy room containing grapple points at every corner and a duct system under the floor which can only be a homage to the Batman Arkham games. In its lengthy middle section, non-coincidentally also its strongest, Burial At Sea Part 2 feels like someone, somewhere is really enjoying putting this stuff into BioShock’s magic and technology mash-up world at last.

Unfortunately this only opens up the long-lingering question of why more fleshed-out stealth systems weren’t in BioShock or Infinite all along: they fit so naturally that the series having hitherto been pure combat now seems even more illogical. As does the (personally extremely satisfying) option for non-lethality, via knock-out blows from the shadows or sleep darts – as well as finally offering a way to play that isn’t a colourful variant on all guns blazing, it would have spared Infinite especially from criticisms that mass murder was the resolution to every carefully-depicted socio-political problem. But that there was a way to retro-fit the stealth systems to the earlier games, eh?

Like Burial At Sea Part 1 before it, Part 2 is also beautiful, almost incomparably lavish in both appearance and sound, and astoundingly rich with moments of deft, playful and sinister world-building, but it’s wonderful to finally have a slice of Infinite in which the artist’s control is not quite so total. Creeping allows more appreciation of what’s been built, and part 2 lasts so much longer and is so much more elaborate that it doesn’t bow out with part 1′s deflating sense that we’d just been on a glorified museum tour. To my mind it’s better realised than Infinite itself too – which may have much to do with the sense that for all its absurdity and heightened sci-fi, Rapture remains a more believable, achievable and fascinating place than the more Disneyland-like Columbia, as well as that its shadows and quiet can now be travelled through in kind.

And so to Elizabeth, now agent rather than goal. She too winds up feeling so natural a fit for a BioShock protagonist – a smart innocent being slowly corrupted by the moral rot around her – that the historical decision to go with weak-willed men steeped in blood seems all the more questionable. She’s wracked with guilt and stained in some blood too after the events of Infinite and Burial At Sea part 1, but she is a light in the darkness, and she seeks resolutions that don’t involve pointing a gun at whoever’s on the other end of a two-way radio or the other side of an steel door. The removal of her reality-shifting Tear abilities is overly-convenient and explained via hand-waving, but frankly expecting DLC that gave players the power of a god was always going to be too big an ask.

I’m also grateful that her former status as walking plot device with the power to affect any change the writer so desires is kept at bay until the closing moments – not so much because it affords new ways to appreciate her character (most of Burial At Sea Part 2 is focused on her guilt and loneliness rather than her quantum mysticism), but because the meat of the game retains more of an internal logic, as per the original BioShock, when reality isn’t in danger of being altered at a moment’s notice.

Come the final act, though, control is taken away, the still-novel stealth mechanics are sadly abandoned entirely, part-reveals come thick and fast and the dependence on restaging familiar events from new perspectives gets far too Back To The Future II, but again in a way that undermines rather than appreciates what came before.

There is, too, an uncalled for, drawn-out and horrifying torture scene, seen from the victim’s perspective. One the one hand it’s impressive in that the gruesomeness is achieved as much via sounds and description as it is mere image, but on the other it felt completely wanton. I suppose I won’t spoil it, but I did have to pause it half way through and go for a turn around the block before I could continue. Even thinking about it now makes my arms go limp – no doubt that’s to some degree my own near-phobic response to…. surgical procedures, but it’s also because this scene goes on so damn long and shows the torturer reveling in the detail of his actions.

As well as this moment seeming to me to crave shock-horror outrage, it’s both jarringly unlike anything else in any BioShock and – spoiler of a sort, although you’ve probably guessed this is already – there’s an uncomfortable undertone to the fact that we’re given so much detail for so long of a terrible thing happening to a female character when equally, if not more, gruesome situations that the BioShock series’ male characters suffer are, while grisly, rather more cursory and spared such horrific lingering. Like the torturer, the game seems to revel in what it’s doing to a woman, as opposed to a ‘strong’ man. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything more odious going on than shock factor, but I don’t think it was a smart choice to have the only time the series does something like this also be the only time it stars a woman. Especially given that said woman has already been repeatedly defined by her victim status.

The combo of that scene and a collapse into narrative self-reverence sadly ends the otherwise extremely impressive Burial At Sea Episode 2, and BioShock, and BioShock Infinite, on something of a sour note – an indulgent, convenient, gratuitous and overly mystical conclusion to tales that had so often soared with strangeness, ambition and philosophy.

Fitting in a way, perhaps. I mean, BioShock’s sins have always been its sins and thus a component part of it in the same way its triumphs have always been its triumphs. Time is a flat circle, to cite the quote of the hour (and my word, don’t True Detective and BioShock’s dark tales have a great deal in common, in terms of expectation vs outcome?), and in so many ways both clearly deliberate and perhaps inadvertent, Irrational’s BioShock series ends as it began. Sky-high ambition. Incredible visual design and attention to detail. Promise it couldn’t possibly live up to. Shortcuts. Pride. A fall.

I could probably write forever about what I think the BioShock games did wrong, but I wouldn’t for one single second want a world in which they didn’t exist. BioShock’s many sins are as fascinating and informative as its many triumphs. And in the end, inna final analysis, BioShock ends with a tantalising, bittersweet glimpse of what might have been – an evolution into stealth, into non-typical protagonists, into… well, rather out of the flat circle and the great chain.

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82 Comments »

  1. Prosper0_cz says:

    Amazing review, thanks for it. It also served to confirm my decision NOT to play Infinite (as I have definitely very finite time) was a good one.

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      golem09 says:

      How could that ever be a good one? It’s a gaming experience I wouldn’t ever want to miss. That’s like not playing Deadly Premonition because it’s controls are shit, or not playing Vampire the Masquerade because it has bugs.

      • Jinoru says:

        Seems like a good enough reason to me.

      • piedpiper says:

        Infinite is a piece of shit with a good art-style. Deadly Premonitions and Bloodlines have much more positive sides to them than just good art-style.

      • GenBanks says:

        Except maybe that you, like me, would have had an extremely good time playing Bioshock Infinite. I almost never finish single player campaigns, even short ones, but I was hooked and felt like telling everyone about how good it was when I finished.

        (oops, that was meant for Prosper0)

      • toxic avenger says:

        Wait, the primary complaint against Deadly Premonition is that its controls are poor? I haven’t played the title, but I’ve stayed away from it because the writing, content, and tone seem both horrible and completely not aware of itself whatsoever. Am I wrong?

        • swimming anime says:

          Yes, you are wrong. Its not for everybody but it is extremely, almost entirely defined by, its self-awareness. It is funny, bizarre, deep… even if you don’t play it I highly recommend watching supergreatfriend’s lets play. Certainly worth the hours of entertainment value.

    • Baboonanza says:

      I’m about half-way through Biochock Infinite at the moment and think it’s fantastic, certainly the best narrative driven FPS I’ve played in a long time. I think it’s a more well rounded and interesting game than the original Bioshock and vastly superior to the fairly dull Metro: Last Light, which was the last similar game I played.

      The world is beautiful and interesting and I actually quite enjoy the combat, it’s farily unforgiving on hard. I’m not sure why it got so much stick to be honest, other than people perhaps expecting something other than it aims to be.

      Get it cheap and play it. As long as you don’t have unrealistic expectations there is a lot to enjoy.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        The gameplay and the story of Infinite (just like the other Bioshock games) are completely at odds from the start. But at the end it just goes completely batshit insane to point where neither gameplay nor story can be taken seriously anymore. Quantum Necromancer Ghost is probably the most egregious example, but hardly the only one. The devs not understanding the rules of their own setting (or simply not giving a crap about consistency anymore) at the ending is just icing on the rotten cake.

        As for unrealistic expectations, maybe people wouldn’t expect a lot if the Devs didn’t hype up the game beyond what they’ve actually achieved. Ken Can-do-no-Wrong Levine literally claimed Bioshock 1 would be a worthy successor to System Shock – and that claim is utterly ridiculous. Bioshock hasn’t come close to the complexity and depth of SS2.

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          golem09 says:

          And I think it’s the best ending I’ve ever seen in any game.
          Maybe my need for loophole free explanations of scifi mumbo jumbo have been reduced by watching Doctor Who, but it made enough sense for me to understand what writing was getting, and was so perfectly presented, that it simply gave me chills.

          • DatonKallandor says:

            It’s a good ending if you haven’t been paying too much attention to how the tear mechanic works and don’t know many worlds theory. If you do, Elizabeth is babbling nonsense at the end, and her “solution” is laughable and wouldn’t work with the setting as established in the rest of the game.

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            golem09 says:

            I know exactly what you mean, yet they somehow made it so that it doesn’t even bother me. It’s more of a philosophical ending than actual sciency ending, and I’m very fine with it.

          • ohminus says:

            Who cares about loophole free explanations when the middle part of the game already has logic holes in it large enough to fly Columbia through?

            They felt very intelligent introducing that tear concept, but didn’t really spend a single thought on its use, merely using it as a deus ex machina whenever convenient, blissfully ignoring what they had established five minutes ago.

            Good storytelling? Hardly.

          • piedpiper says:

            To me, Binfinite has one of the most atrocius writings and endings in the history of the videogames. I think this game was an epic fail for Irrational. Too bad they finished their existence with such dissapointing game.

          • pilouuuu says:

            It’s hardly the best ending ever. It’s better than Mass Effect 3 Deus Ex-Machina crap, but it’s worse than something like the nonsensical Monkey Island 2 ending. It was predictable, convoluted, confusing and unsatisfactory, although I have to admit it left me thinking. And the plot twist was no where near as good as the one in KOTOR.

            It’s a shame endings are paid so little attention to by developers when it’s something so important to make all the previous experience worthwhile.

          • tom1111 says:

            @DatonKallandor

            The things mentioned by elizabeth completely line up with the setting and story.

          • tom1111 says:

            >It’s better than Mass Effect 3 Deus Ex-Machina crap

            It didnt have a deus ex machina ending, stop using latin phrases when you dont understand their meaning.

        • piedpiper says:

          True, I totally agree with you.

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        Rizlar says:

        Agree, and it’s only a fiver or so on steam at the moment!

        edit: Apart from perhaps the bit about it being more interesting/well rounded than Bioshock. They are very different games and I think both achieve things that the other doesn’t come close to.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        the best narrative driven FPS

        That’s like saying “this is the stinkiest poo”.

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        Erithtotl says:

        I knew what I was getting into when I got Infinite, and yet it still couldn’t hold my interest beyond about %20 of the game (I’m guessing, might be less). The shock and excitement of the Objectivist Gone Wrong setting of the original, combined with the spectacular Art Deco sets and the undersea atmosphere of the first one I found so powerful, and the mechanics, while not particularly sophisticated, still seemed a step above traditional shooters. Infinite really added nothing on top of that and has a less interesting setting. The primitive ‘shooter with powers’ mechanics have grown stale for me in a world of more sophisticated titles like Far Cry 3 and Dishonored.

        I’m really tired of games where the narrative and the gameplay are so at odds with each other (something that I think gaming is really struggling to deal with as games that were traditionally just arcade violence and plot, motivation, emotion and consequence).

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      Gap Gen says:

      I’ve played BS1 and BS:I, and they’re both interesting but flawed games. It’s also worth noting that the game itself is a mostly linear shooter with limited relevance to the ideas behind it. I enjoyed playing Infinite, the shooting worked pretty well on the whole as far as FPSs go, and it has some nice ideas, but like people have said it also has a lot of problems, even if it at least tries to address the darker aspects of Western culture through its setting.

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    golem09 says:

    Really pondering whether to play it now, or replay Bioshock 1 before. Hmm….

    • LionsPhil says:

      Neither, and play System Shock (1 or 2) instead?

      • DatonKallandor says:

        System Shock holds up incredibly well. It is STILL a better FPS RPG Horror game than any other since.

        • kalirion says:

          I, for one preferred Bioshock 1′s plot and atmosphere to both System Shock games. Also preferred SS1 to SS2.

          To each his own, I guess.

          • piedpiper says:

            I think history of Shocks is about degrading quality. First was the best, though I played it after Bioshock.

    • Booker says:

      BaS actually has a “what previously happened” for BioShock _1_!

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    Rizlar says:

    Sad to hear about the pointless retconning of Bioshock and Infinite’s stories, especially when the end of Infinite provides the perfect justification for portraying any combination of characters and settings together with every opportunity to reference what has gone before and absolutely no need to explicitly link them.

    Still want to play the Burial at Sea DLCs at some point, so I appreciate the spoiler-free review!

    • Sir_Brizz says:

      It was obvious they planned it from the beginning, though. There are all kinds of references to Bioshock in Infinite. Way more than coincidental.

  4. Geebs says:

    Expanded universes – ruining everything you used to like since 1979 :-(

    That was an epic write-up, thank you. If only I could make up my mind whether to try this… If I loved then liked bioshock, and liked then disliked Infinite, is this for me?

    • pepperfez says:

      Oh, much longer than that – since the New Testament at least.

  5. altum videtur says:

    Brutal, sadistically detailed torture of a woman?
    Bah, I read de Sade to fall asleep.

    Retconning the outrageous series of Faux Pas’ they made with the Vox Populi?
    Irrational, if you weren’t dead already, you’d be dead to me. Maybe. A little.
    It’s actually kind of funny in a really sad way.

  6. N'Al says:

    Don’t know how it compares, but there was a particular gruesome first-person torture scene in The Darkness too (incl. electric drill to the temples). For the curious, see here: http://youtu.be/Q40RTWSk5po?t=3m30s (can’t do anything about the ridiculous voiceover, I’m afraid).

    Just posting for interest, really, not trying to start a “My game has a better first-person torture scene than your game!” thing. Or am I?

    • DatonKallandor says:

      They tried to do an even more ridiculous torture scene in The Darkness 2, but they screwed it up – because everyone including the main character is so ridiculously unlikeable in The Darkness 2 you don’t give a crap if he gets tortured.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Talk of it made me think of Stroggification, although I suspect for some people the greater torture is being reminded of Quake 4.

    • Shazbut says:

      I’m playing Corpse Party at the moment, but that probably doesn’t count cos it’s Japanese

  7. kyrieee says:

    Why is her head so big?

  8. Laurentius says:

    Ah, good. Bioshock games, decent Let’s Plays are well sufficient to experience them for me.

  9. Raztaman says:

    Just realise it’s not available on Steam for another 4 hours (about 5pm) where I am…. Dangit :(

  10. jonahcutter says:

    I found the slam-bang action a good fit for Bioshock/Rapture (post-fall). But I would of loved to experience Columbia in primarily stealth/infiltration mode. With occasional eruptions of scarily-horrific, plasmid-powered violence. Infinite was just a mess of contradicting and poorly thought out mechanics and story.

    As far as the retcons… ugh. Consider perhaps throwing in some meta head nods towards the criticisms, but don’t wave it off with a “just kidding!” or “Quantum!”.

  11. Lagwolf says:

    So how long does it last? The previous DLC was rather short for what they charged for it.

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      Jalan says:

      6 hours if you semi-rush it, though I’m probably off slightly in my estimation.

  12. bill says:

    How does Bioshock: Infinite handle older systems? As in, my system just about managed to play Bioshock, but I’m not sure it’d handle much more… although I’m willing to turn down the graphics if needed.

    • Booker says:

      Define old… But in general it has a very wide range of quality settings, so it can be adjusted to many systems. Check out the minimum system requirements.

    • drek says:

      I have a pc that was high-end in 2008. It runs well enough at 720p, min/medium settings. Looks great, in fact there’s not much difference between high and low settings for the untrained eye.

  13. Shooop says:

    Gratuitous torture scenes in video games are quickly becoming passe and cliche. Is the industry really so unimaginative it can’t think of any other way to make virtual characters seem to be in danger?

    • pepperfez says:

      What, are you afraid of Mature Themes and Emotional Narratives in videogames?

      • Jinoru says:

        There’s better ways to have mature themes besides blunt torture and violence on specific kinds of individuals. There can be far more nuance and subtlety which can be far more effective in getting a point across.

        • pepperfez says:

          Sorry, I had hoped my Conspicuous Capitalization would convey sarcasm.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        Current “mature” video games are about as mature as a six year old. “Mature” to the video game industry means “tits and killing unarmed brown people”.

    • kalirion says:

      I’d hardly call “The Cat Lady” unimaginative.

      • Shooop says:

        The torture scenes were one of the least imaginative parts of that game. The good dialogue and Silent Hill-esquse settings were what made it.

        Bioshock Infinite doesn’t have enough of those things to justify all the money they spent on it.

    • captain nemo says:

      jeez – what a scummy way for the series to finish. will avoid

  14. Octopus Prime says:

    i have bought the DLC but i only have episode 1? why?! really wanna play…

  15. TheTingler says:

    “Like the torturer, the game seems to revel in what it’s doing to a woman.”

    Alec, I defend every time RPS wants to take a stand against misogynistic attitudes in games, but in this instance I’m telling you (as someone else who’s played the episode to completion) you are imagining this. It’s a deeply (and intentionally) uncomfortable scene, but there is nothing to suggest gender matters – in fact I felt the whole point was that you felt like it was happening to you.

    And Booker (spoiler alert for episode 1) got a drill through his chest in the last episode. I think that would hurt a bit more.

    • HadToLogin says:

      At least now you know why developers CAN’T go away from generic “white male”. Change one of those and you’ll get people seeing misogyny/racism/sexism in scenes that would be totally fine if they would happen to “white male”.

      • pepperfez says:

        Did you even read the article? He acknowledges that gruesome horrible things happen to male characters throughout the series, but they’re presented without the leering sadism present in this scene.

        That may be true or false, but it’s not trivially false or evidence of bad-faith argument.

        • Slight0 says:

          Yes, but it misses the point; this has absolutely nothing to do with this imagined misogyny nonsense. Elizabeth is obviously THE character in the story you’re supposed to have an empathetic connection towards. You watch her grow from innocence to her more mature self. My heart was broke when the torture was first alluded to in the first game. Seeing it in detail would only make it more emotional and that was obviously their point here. It was SUPPOSED to make you angry/sad. No other character would have as much of an emotional impact. It’s so absurd to think that there’s some sort of underlying women hatred here. Seriously, this mindset is like a disease that we need a vaccination for immediately.

          Men are tortured to much greater detail in other games, the misogyny argument has absolutely zero ground to stand on. RPS writers love to jump on that bandwagon for some reason. I wonder if it makes them feel morally superior to other people or something, like they’re on the edge of societal progression and valiant defenders of women’s rights. Just a theory.

          • toxic avenger says:

            No, not thinking is the real disease than needs vaccination.

            This same problem, the torture and pain of women, has been studied and written about in film for literally decades. I’ll give you the not so long but very short of it: Women are almost always tortured in media to serve as pleasure for men. You describe just that. The narrative is written in such a way that you are made to feel a connection to Elizabeth, to the point where when she describes being tortured, you begin to have emotions for a fictitious thing, a not real entity.

            I began typing another paragraph to explain myself more, but, why bother? You don’t seem like the type of lad who is capable of changing his mind, that is, learning something new rather than just making up an opinion about something. Else you would have found out what this argument against this type of portrayal was, the reasoning behind it, and examples of it. That’s just too much to ask a rando on the internet, though, I admit.

        • drek says:

          It’s Frank Fontaine, dude. He kills little girls erryday. It’s entirely possible that he might enjoy torturing a woman. That’s what makes a great villain – his horrifying and memorable character traits. No one should imply that because the writers have created a repulsive villain, they themselves must fancy what he does. That’s just ridiculous, backwards thinking that can be compared to “People who listen to death metal enjoy murder”!

      • archiebunker says:

        Interesting article on Polygon that is apropos to this line of thought:

        http://www.polygon.com/2014/3/22/5536966/study-suggests-playing-as-a-black-character-can-reinforce-racist

        Seems you just can’t please all the people all the time

    • Booker says:

      Yes, the author is just being sexist. I have seen many much worse torture scenes in games but they are all okay because it was done to men. If that exact same scene would have happened to a man, it would not have been mentioned in that article.

    • Listlurker says:

      Wanted to return to back up comments made above by poster +TheTingler.

      I’m very aware of misogyny in gaming, and I find it abhorrent in all its guises. Now that I’ve played through the torture scene mentioned in the review, I have to say — this was merely a scene demonstarting evil being inflicted on the protagonist by a villain. There was no misogyny present, nor any sexualization of the process, nor was there any noticeable attempt to linger on Elizabeth’s captivity or powerlessness at all, never mind in in any gender-related way.

      It was simply an evil man inflicting terrible things on a protagonist. The very same scene could’ve played through with Booker in Elizabeth’s role, and remained identical in all respects.

      I was willing to give the reviewer some credence — until I actually saw the scene in question. Yes, call out misogny in gaming for the evil it is — but if you’re going to damn something with such a serious charge, it behooves a reviewer to get it right.

  16. LockjawNightvision says:

    What an insightful, well-written piece. Great work, Alec!

    And you even criticised icky gender politics in an intelligent way that didn’t overpower the piece or devolve into shrill hand-waving!

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    draglikepull says:

    “an indulgent, convenient, gratuitous and overly mystical conclusion to tales that had so often soared with strangeness, ambition and philosophy.”

    Surely this is also how one would sum up Bioshock: Infinite. There are parts of Bioshock: Infinite, especially early on, that are simply marvelous. But the final couple of hours of that game are a complete narrative mess, culminating in a finale that so thoroughly contradicts its own logic as to render the whole thing meaningless.

  18. JP says:

    Worth noting: of all the talented people who worked on this, only one man will get any of the money you spend on it.

    • Astroman says:

      Most of the video game industry if not capitalism in a nutshell. Royalties for anyone not a major share holder are extremely rare now days.

      • JP says:

        Difference here being that only one person who worked on it is still collecting a paycheque.

  19. morningoil says:

    Can we stop talking about B:I as anything less than a (flawed but) towering artistic masterpiece of extraordinary proportions? Ta.

    • lizzardborn says:

      No, because it was not masterpiece and for a good portion of the audience it was just boring. Yaaay another hundred clones to kills, Yaaay another arena, Yaaay another tearjerker cutscene, Yaaay only two weapons at a time and no save when we had much more imaginative mechanics in Bioshock. Also either I am incapable of human emotions or the writing was just mediocre.

  20. Listlurker says:

    Et tu, Alec Meer?

    I readily admit the Bioshock series has flaws, but lately it seems like everyone lines up to hold forth on the possible meaning and significance of the series’ various missteps, while glossing over its artistry, entertainment value, and innovation with a grudging “Hm. Well. Yes. As expected. Carry on!”

  21. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    “every carefully-depicted socio-political problem”

  22. solidshredder says:

    I have read so many incredibly great articles on RPS through the years. I’ve never been put off by a single one, until now. This entire article and the whole of the comments section are steeped with an insufferable amount of unwarranted venom. I have no idea where it’s coming from and to guess would be futile. Rest assured, I will be frequenting this site less often.

  23. Beyond the Sea says:

    “the much-criticised ultimate depiction of Vox Populi leader Daisy Fitzroy”

    Those critics were totally wrong. Daisy Fitzroy’s descent into fanatical hatred in BioShock Infinite was psychologically plausible and full of historical resonance. Consider how the French and Russian revolutions lead to tyranny and terror. Consider Mao and Pol Pot. It is not possible for anyone to successfully orchestrate a violent revolution without being extremely ruthless. But the kind of person who can do that is also the kind of person who will want to impose his or her will on the nation afterwards. Every liberator has the potential to become a new tyrant.

    But a person who lives for the revolution because everything else has been taken away from her will naturally come to see her cause as more important than literally anything else in the world. She would be surrounded by other people who thought the same way and they would re-enforce each other’s certainty. Groupthink breeds fanaticism and fanatics do not see their opponents as human beings. By the time Fitzroy captures Fink she would have personally killed many people and ordered the deaths of thousands more. After all that killing one more death wouldn’t seem very important, and a child wouldn’t seem any more deserving of mercy than all the other civilians that had already been slaughtered. The fact that Fitzroy is intelligent and thoughtful only serves to emphasise how powerful the dehumanizing effects of repression, revolution and civil war really are. Nobody involved in that situation can avoid being transformed by it.

    That makes the ret-con in BAS2 even more stupid than Alec suggests. Daisy Fitzroy is not a heroine but the doomed protagonist of a tragedy. It’s a powerful story about fate and choice and the consequences of hatred, and BAS2 throws it all away for no good reason.

  24. Triumph0 says:

    Oh so the torture scene was too drawn out? Right because torture scenes usually go like *punch* “WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR!?” “I… I don’t remember…” “Damn! He doesn’t remember. Cut him lose and let’s go home boys”

  25. markerikson says:

    The ending of Bioshock Infinite was probably the most satisfying ending I’ve encountered in any medium, ever. It did what I think all endings strive to do, and yet almost always fail. It tied the story off narratively, emotionally, and thematically all in a single moment of epiphany. Which is so amazingly rare that I feel it should be celebrated, and yet so very many people don’t seem to appreciate it.

    Tied into this is the question of the violence in B:I. I argue that the extreme violence is integral to the narrative and themes of B:I, and yet I see again and again that people feel very strongly otherwise. They ask, “What is my motivation for killing these policemen or these freedom fighters?” When they should be asking, “What does the fact that my character is killing policemen and freedom fighters without a second thought say about my character?” I get that that question doesn’t come naturally to someone playing a computer game – especially an FPS. FPSs have traditionally been the genre of the silent protagonist, in which the gamer gets to insert themselves into the narrative. B:I doesn’t do that. It gives you a pre-defined, well thought out character to play, and asks you to get to know him by watching his actions. Booker DeWitt is a violent monster.

    So, the ending (and there will be SPOILERS), how does it tie the story off on three fronts with a single stroke?

    Well, the simplest of these is the narrative. That which was mysterious suddenly makes sense. (SPOILERS FOLLOW) Booker and Comstock are the same man in two alternate worlds. Their paths diverged at the moment of baptism, where Comstock chose to be baptised and take on a new name and new religious fervor, while Booker chose to believe that a baptism couldn’t truly wash away his sins, and resolved to live with his guilt. Comstock bought Elizabeth from Booker because he wanted a daughter of his own blood, but couldn’t have one of his own. Both Comstock and Booker are equally guilty when it comes to crimes against Elizabeth.

    Thematically, if Booker and Comstock are the same man, then Comstock, who has largely been a cipher up until that point, is suddenly revealed to us. Comstock is also a violent monster, but his violence has been redirected into the religion he founded and the city he built. This also makes a great deal of sense out of the nature of Columbia itself, given that Columbia is essentially a reflection of Comstock. It also shows us that the baptism didn’t wash Comstock’s sin away, he’s still the same man – and probably a worse man, given that he no longer takes responsibility for his own sins. Booker, at least, feels guilt.

    And emotionally, well, that defies explanation, except to say that we gain a great deal of understanding about the way Booker feels towards Elizabeth, and the way Elizabeth feels towards Booker. We understand why she kills him, and we understand why he accepts it.

    Now, having said all that, B:I isn’t without it’s flaws. There’s gameplay elements that displease me (the quantum ghost being the primary example), and there’s story elements that I didn’t like (there’s a LOT of handwaving with the science, and Daisy Fitzroy is super problematic), and I have mixed feelings about the DLC (the story of Episode One was a clever but unnecessary addendum, and I actually rather enjoyed the retconning and interconnecting of the two worlds in Episode Two, but the revisionism with Daisy felt hamfisted, and I still don’t get why Elizabeth would care so much about Sally that she was willing to sacrifice everything), but I feel like B:I cops a lot of flak for elements that are actually its greatest strengths.